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License to Drive

I was part of an interesting twitter conversation a couple weeks ago about road trips and first cars. The conversation started with the observation that road trips--a much-loved YA plot staple--are a somewhat privileged construct: they imply that one has the money to have a car of one's own, the time and means to travel around, the ability to obtain a license, among other things. Of course there are many YA plot staples that are inherently privileged (um, boarding school, anyone?), and there are certainly road trip books where the teens don't have access to money or resources. The desperate Will and Zoe in Kristin Halbrook's beautiful NOBODY BUT US come to mind.

But cars, especially first cars, have stories behind them. And not just the cars themselves, but the stories behind their acquisition and use. As a writer, I love thinking about what kind of car my characters might drive--if they drive at all--and so I asked my fellow YA Highwayers if they would share the stories behind their first cars. Here they are! I've included my own, as well.

Steph: I didn't get my first car until after I graduated from college, which makes sense, since I didn't get my driver's license until I was 21. But the year was 1995 and we had an old family friend who had become too ill to drive anymore, and he kindly gave me his car. It was a 1983 Ford Fairmont. It had a bench front seat and looked like one of the cars from the "Sabotage" video.

Here's a picture of it with a 21-year-old boyfriend sprawled across the hood. Almost twenty years later, I no longer have the car, but I still have the boy*!

*Now a grown man.

Lee: Right after I got my license, I got my first car, I was 16, I think. It was a sporty cute Plymouth Turismo. I even got hot pink windshield wiper covers. 2 months later I lost my license for speeding in said Turismo and had to ride to school with a friend for a month!

Kristin: This car was a hand-me-down from my mom, who got it as a hand-me-down from someone else. It was stick shift, which I loved, but otherwise I was completely embarrassed to drive it at first, especially since I was living in an area where teens' first cars were cute Neons and Tercels and so forth. I got over that, though, and accepted that it fit my hippie aesthetic more or less.

Veronica: I inherited the "kid car" (my sister had it, then my brother, then me), and it was a purple Jeep Wrangler with holes in the canvas top (taped over, of course!) and a barely-functional heater. We kept blankets in the back for cold days. I loved it, though-- fun to drive in the summer, and it handled the snow pretty well. I only really had it for six months or so before it broke.

Kirsten: 1981 seafoam green Honda Accord (in the year 2000). I paid for it myself working at Cappuccino Club and Pet World. it was kind of a heap but I mostly enjoyed that about it -- it was character-building. Until somebody keyed the word "bitch" in the door. I never found out who did it. Oh, high school...

Kate: My grandparents moved out of country the year I turned 16, so they handed their car down to me: a mid-80s model Isuzu Impulse. It did go really fast (the internet claims it was a sports car?), but the brakes didn't work very well; the driver's side window was duct taped shut, the steering was sketchy, and when the AC was on, the car wouldn't shift to third. But still, free car.

Deb: I didn't get my license until I was 21, I think? because of being legally blind and needing special (super duper expensive) glasses, and also because my parents tried to smother me and was sure I would crash, lol. Also I was pretty terrified of driving until then because *I* thought I would crash! It was a 6 year old poop bronze Nissan Maxima.

 Sarah: My first car was Lulu, a used Jetta, and man I loved her. Got her at 16 and had so so so many beach trips. After high school we sold her to my cousin, who drove her throughout his college years.

Kaitlin: It was a blue 1996 (I think) Chevy Cavalier. My parents bought it for my sister and I when I was 17 so that we could be more independent with summer jobs and extracurricular activities and stuff (since our high school was 20 minutes away, and our summer job was also not walkable and it was much easier if they didn't have to pick us up and drop us off all the time!) It smelled faintly of smoke from the previous owner when we got it, and we COULD NOT get the smell out for the longest time despite our best efforts.

Amy: My first car was a 1991 Toyota Camry. I was the first of my group of friends to get my license by quite a few months, so that meant that I drove everybody everywhere, every single day, lol. I didn't mind it though (for the first year, anyway,) because the new freedom was pretty intoxicating. My BFF and I used to ride around blasting stuff like that White Stripes album White Blood Cells, and order tacos from Jack in the Box because we thought they were God's greatest gift to the tummy, and because of that, the car often had empty taco wrappers on the floor. I hung a Nightmare Before Christmas thing around the mirror and had a dinosaur bobble head on the dash.

What was your first ride?

Stephanie Kuehn

Stephanie is the William C. Morris award-winning author of Charm & Strange, Complicit, Delicate Monsters, and The Smaller Evil.

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  1. My dad, a career Navy man, paid $200 for my 1971 Dodge pickup truck. That was in 1982. I don't know what the original color was, but I had an olive drab truck before such things were cool (are they cool now?). Since I'd recently discovered hunting, I immediately put a gun rack in the window. I even put guns in it. This, of course, was before people overreacted to such things. The truck died a few months later after I rear ended a Suburu.

    1. Sounds like it was a pretty perfect ride! Thank you for sharing.

    2. Love that you had a gun rack!

  2. I worked my butt off to earn $500 to buy a used 1992 Chevy Cavalier (in 2000), salvaged from a junk yard and saved by my mother's then-boyfriend/mechanic. I spent my weekends during college under it with a hacksaw, trying to save the exhaust system or patch some rusty hole. It had a mean leak making it smell rank, and the front passenger quarter panel was white from when the tie-rod broke. I gave it to my little sister who never used it because, that summer, lightning struck the barn by which it was parked. By the time the fire was extinguished, the barn was a pile of ash and the rear end of the car looked like dripping red and black candle wax.

    1. Oh no! What a dramatic end for the Chevy Cavalier. Poor car and poor barn.

  3. My first car was a mint green Kia Sephia - not a bad car now but I got it the first year Kia started selling cars in America and it was a piece of pa-pu. It cost me over $100 to get an oil change and I had to schedule it almost a month in advance because they were using such specifically terrible parts that had to be ordered from the manufacturer. I liked it because I had just moved to Florida for college and represented a lot of freedom for me but my automotive style has come a long way (I just bought a new Subaru Crosstrek…swoon) and I'm grateful for that!

    1. Oh dear, about the Kia! :) But congrats on the Subaru. I had one briefly before moving into the sad land of minivan ownership, and I loved it.

  4. I'm 28 and I've still never had a car. People occasionally try to force them on me, but honestly, where I live they're an expensive inconvenience. My dad always says that when his cousins got a car it always killed their dreams, because suddenly they were chained to repairs and insurance payments. Freedom doesn't always come with four wheels. :)

    1. They are definitely a hassle in some places!

    2. Ha ha ha. My closest grocery store is nearly 30 minutes away. I can't imagine *not* having to drive somewhere. :)

  5. 1988 Chevy Sprint. Pretty much one step up from a lawn mower. It rattled like it would blow up whenever I got on the freeway. :)


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Item Reviewed: License to Drive Rating: 5 Reviewed By: stephanie kuehn